Goodbye ‘President’ Trump; hail ‘President’ Mattis
US Defense Secretary Mattis takes effective charge of US foreign policy, but leads US down a blind alley
24 August, 2017
Back on 16th February 2017, shortly after the forced resignation of President Trump’s first National Security Adviser General Flynn, I spoke of the that US Defense Secretary General Mattis appeared to be wielding within the Trump administration
General Mattis is becoming a dominant figure within this administration. As a much decorated former combat officer who is also considered to be a genuine intellectual, Mattis appears to have quickly asserted his authority over the Joint Chiefs of Staff with whom civilian Defense Secretaries have previously often had uneasy relationships…..
All in all General Mattis appears to be gathering more and more of the threads of power into his hands. If this trend continues, and if he uses his position skilfully, Mattis could end up becoming one of the most powerful Defense Secretaries the US has had since the Second World War. Whether such a concentration of power in the hands of a soldier is a good thing is another matter.
So, the strategy is to use military power to create the conditions for a political settlement with the Taleban, even though it has so far utterly failed to achieve that, and even though ‘nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.’ And this is what constitutes ‘grown-up’ thinking? At the end of the day, Trump’s announcement amounts merely to a statement that withdrawing will bring untold disaster, and therefore we have to persist, because, well, you know, it will be bad if we don’t. There is nothing in this announcement which suggests how Trump or his advisors imagine that this war will end. They are as clueless as Obama and Bush before them, and so are just carrying on doing the same thing over and over.
Why do they do this? The answer is that the financial costs of the war are dispersed over a vast number of people, so that nobody actually notices them, while the human costs are concentrated in a small segment of the population – the military – which the rest of the people can safely ignore (and at the current tempo of operations, the number of Americans dying in Afghanistan is quite low). Politically speaking, continuing the war is relatively cost-free. But should America withdraw, and something then goes wrong, Trump and those around him will be held to blame. It is better therefore to cover their backsides and keep things bubbling along as they are until the problem can be passed onto somebody else. This is a solution in terms of domestic politics, but it’s not a solution in terms of the actual problem.